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Local Duo Takes a Novel Approach

In crafting their debut novel Meant To Be, Mill Valley authors Sue Warhaftig and Beverly Butler take DIY to a whole new level.

You never know when creative inspiration will strike.

For first-time authors and longtime Mill Valley residents Sue Warhaftig and Beverly Butler, it struck during pilates.

Warhaftig knew she was a storyteller at heart but with “average” writing skills, she hadn’t yet found a way to bring her ideas to life. Butler, for her part, was already a skilled writer who had written a play inspired by the pilates class that was produced in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The two women had known each other casually before the class, but discovered their complementary literary skills while bonding over the reformer machine.

So when Butler found herself between jobs (“for about half an hour!” laughs Warhaftig), the two women decided to dive together into a dream project: writing a chick-lit novel.

The result is Meant To Be, a juicy beach-read the two women wrote, self-published and are now marketing together, all while handling their “day” jobs and raising teenage children along with their husbands.

Although set on the East Coast (fictional Livingstone, New Jersey, modeled on Warhaftig’s stomping grounds), the plot was inspired in large part by both women’s experiences living and loving here in Mill Valley. Both are quick to point out, however, that none of the characters is based on anyone they know.

Meant To Be tells the story of Judith McCoy, a woman of a certain age, who has let things slip just a little bit too much: a few too many drinks, a few too many pounds, and not enough attention to her faltering marriage. When her husband’s wandering eye settles on another woman, Judith is forced to confront her issues and figure out how to get her life back on track.

It’s a crossroads real women face every day, in every town in America. And far from painting a one-sided picture, Butler and Warhaftig made sure that all the characters in the story had something real and likable about them, even the normally-reviled "other woman."

“We wanted the characters all to have redeeming qualities, and all to be equally flawed,” says Butler.

They also agreed early on that the book would be written for an adult audience, and accordingly spiced up the story with some R-rated sex scenes, while remaining careful not to cross any lines out of their intended genre.

“There’s a fine line between erotica and chick-lit,” says Warhaftig. “You don’t want your audience to be minimized by your writing.”

Nonetheless, the novel was originally classified as erotica when it was first released to the iPad Bookstore, and it took the women weeks of badgering to have it re-classified.

The pair first tried writing side by side, sentence by sentence, but found quickly that it didn’t suit their styles. So taking full advantage of technological conveniences, Butler and Warhaftig emailed drafts back and forth to each other, often meeting for lunch at Kitty’s Place in Sausalito to go over their revisions.

Based on their own strengths and weaknesses, they divided up responsibilities: Warhaftig generated the story and moved the plot forward while Butler, the more organized of the two, refined the writing, expanded the backstories and acted as guardian of the novel’s various drafts.

Two years and 16 revisions later, they finished their novel, begging the inevitable question: what next?

After starting down the conventional publishing route - notoriously labor-intensive and rejection-filled - they took to heart some of the helpful feedback they received from well-established publishing houses and potential literary agents (for instance, the fact that 80 percent of books published today are nonfiction). They sensed that their best option was to just do it themselves.

But, warns Warhaftig, “self-publishing is not as easy as we'd hoped!”

They soon learned that there are different formatting requirements for each of the different e-readers (the kindness of tech-savvy friends and acquaintances helped them negotiate that unfamiliar terrain), not to mention figuring out the still-new world of print-on-demand and getting their novel stocked into bookstores.

Fortunately for the two co-authors, fellow Mill Valley resident Pam Scholtz was in the right place at the right time (next to Warhaftig at the gym, naturally), and came on board to help with marketing and publicity.

Meant To Be was released on June 27, and with only seven weeks behind them, the three women’s efforts are already beginning to pay off. Copies of the novel are available locally at and , and the book was – quite fittingly – chosen as the first selection for an online Twitter book club started by Mill Valley blogger and tweeter Sally Kuhlman.

Asked to name a few milestones they’ve experienced since the book’s release, Warhaftig and Butler agree that the first time a non-relative purchased the book, it was a big deal.

“It’s one thing when it’s your mother or your sister or your aunt, but when it’s a complete stranger… that’s when you’ve really arrived!” Warhaftig said, laughing. It's safe to say that their readership has now moved well beyond family and friends: Their website has had reviews posted from readers as far away as Portugal and Australia.

While continuing to work their “day” jobs (Butler in marketing and communications for a financial firm, Warhaftig as a licensed massage therapist and jewelry designer), the authors are throwing all their energy into the marketing of their book for the time being

Warhaftig admits, however, that she has ideas brewing for a sequel or prequel or some kind of follow-up to Meant To Be.

In the meantime, they also jokingly share casting ideas for the film version of their book, with both women agreeing that Demi Moore would be perfect for the role of Judith. And with Moore being a prolific tweeter herself, who knows what could happen?

The 411: Meant To Be is available at The Depot and Siena Rose. It can also be downloaded to an e-reader or purchased online from their website. The authors are appearing in Kentfield at a Sept. 18 "Shop Til You Drop for OneMama" event organized by A Band of Wives; click here for more information.

Erin August 23, 2011 at 10:49 PM
So exciting!
Beth Elzinga August 24, 2011 at 06:15 AM
'Meant to Be' by Beverly Butler and Sue Warhaftig is such a real-life look into the challenges women and men face in their relationships. It's kind of how you never want it to happen -- to let yourself "go" by gaining some pounds and drinking a bit too much, just to self-medicate. We've all been there at 30 or 50 years old, in different stages in our lives. I found the characters to be very real and well-rounded and for that reason, it was hard to put the book down for any serious amount of time. I loved the story. I passed it along here in the Midwest to one friend, who passed it along to another in Madison WI and to date, I have no idea where it is! What I do know is that whoever is reading it right now is completely intrigued and probably up way too late for the simple reason they have to find out what happens next! In my opinion, 'Meant to Be' is a literary success! Would like to see Judith and company engaging in another novel. Hopefully, that's meant to be.

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